Argentina and Chile Wine History

In April 1554, Spanish conquistadors and missionaries introduced European Viti’s vinifera vines to Chile. Local legend has it that Francisco de Aguirre planted the first vines himself. In October 1641, wine imports from the Viceroyalty of Peru and Chile into Spain were banned, severely damaging the Chilean Colony wine industry. Subsequently, some indigenous tribes took over some Spanish vineyards and made a semi-fermented sweet wine called Chicha.

Today, Chilean wines are globally renowned and are available in more than 147 countries. Viña Concha y Toro is the world’s largest producer and exporter of Chilean wine. Chile is the only Phylloxera-free country that produces wine. It is a type of insect that destroyed much of the vines in Europe in 1860. Red varieties of Chilean wine include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Pais, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Semillon, Carignan, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. On the other hand, the white varieties of Chilean wine consist of Pedro Ximénez, Chardonnay, Moscatel, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Sauvignon Gris, and Moscatel de Alexandria.

In Chile, red grapes are harvested from March through early May, while white grape harvest occurs from February to mid-March. Wine history, specifically Bordeaux winemaking in Chile, was profoundly impacted by the French Political instability, high taxes, and bureaucratic regulations further hindered the growth of the wine industry in 1960. Before 1980, most Chilean wines were of low quality and were consumed domestically. Foreign investment in Chilean wineries resulted in the production of premium-quality wine.

View of Chilean vineyards View of Chilean vineyards

The quality of wine in Chile came to the spotlight on 23rd January at the 2004 Berlin Tasting. After France and Italy, Chile began to export wines massively and steadily became the third leading exporter to the US by 2000. Since then, it has fallen to fourth in the US, overtaken by Australia. Chile exports 500 million liters of wine annually and is consequently ranked fifth among the wine-exporting countries.

Chile’s most established wine-producing regions are in the Central Valley and Santiago. The Maipo Valley is located in the South and is home to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile’s most iconic wine. Most influential wine producers worldwide are investing in its winemaking projects, including the Marnier Lapostolle family, founders of Grand Marnier, and Domaines Barons de Rothchild (Lafite), owner of Château Lafite Rothschild.

Wine History in Argentina

The history of Argentine wine dates to the 16th century during the Spanish conquest. For nearly 400 years, Argentinean wineries produced bulks of low-quality wines for the local market. In 1970, the average Argentine drank a third of a bottle of wine a day – according to an estimate.

Argentine President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento hired Michel Aimé Pouget, a French agronomist, to boost Mendoza’s wine industry in December 1852. The first stocks were from Chile, and later, Pouget directly brought supplies from France, which he planted in an area dedicated to the Agrarian Plots. Red varieties of Argentine wine include Tempranillo, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Bonarda. Moreover, the white varieties of Argentine wine are Riesling, Chenin, Viognier, Torrontes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon.

To make communion wine, priests planted vineyards near their monasteries (including Franciscan, Benedictine, and Jesuit Missions). Due to its high productivity, a grape termed Criolla Grande was preferred for winemaking. There are stories of white wine production in 1618 at a Jesuit mission in Jesus Maria, Cordoba. Currently, there is some wine production in La Pampa, Buenos Aires, and Córdoba provinces. However, most wine production occurs in the far western expanse of Argentina, leading up to the foothills of the Andes.

In May 1739, there were 120 vineyards in Mendoza alone, according to a census. The Model Winery in Argentina was built in June 1902. Mendoza is the largest vineyard and the number one producer in the region. It accounts for two-thirds of yearly production. The San Juan and La Rioja regions to the north follow it. The first cuttings are said to have been planted in Argentina in July 1556 by Father Cedrón. He brought over cuttings from the Chilean Central Valley to Mendoza and San Juan. Vine growers gravitate to the Cuyo region in pursuit of the high altitude and favorable semi-arid climate with a lot of irrigation water.

Did you know? In March 1557, Jesuit missionaries established the first recorded commercial vineyard at Santiago del Estero.

In 1860, many immigrants escaped the Phylloxera epidemic’s scourge, bringing their wine expertise to Argentina. Consequently, many Argentinean farmers fell into the quantity, not the quality game.

Thinking more was better instead of thinking better. In 1999, Argentina evolved from a bulk wine producer to a fine wine powerhouse. In August 1885, the completion of the railway track linking Mendoza to Buenos Aires impacted a massive explosion in vine plantings. Argentina’s vineyard area grew from 5,000 acres in 1873 to over 500,000 acres in early 1901. The first industrial wineries were established in 1900 following independence; however, civil wars partly limited their production. Despite this, Argentina became the fifth biggest producer of wine in the world by 1980.

While Malbec certainly is not Argentina’s only wine, it remains the country’s most essential and well-recognized wine today. A dense network of canals at an archeological site in Las Pailas (in Salta) are techniques utilized to capture rain and snowmelt from the Andes to farm crops. A mixture of the right temperature, long hours under the sun, low humidity, scarce rainfall, and the absence of strong winds and exceptional soil conditions provide an excellent ecological environment for producing top-quality grapes.

On this Day

In 1557, Jesuit missionaries established the first recorded commercial vineyard at Santiago del Estero.

In 1860, many immigrants escaped the Phylloxera epidemic’s scourge, bringing their wine expertise to Argentina.

Want to read more? Try out these books!

Vino Argentino- An Insider's Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina Exploring Wine Regions - Argentina- A Culinary, Agricultural and Interesting Journey Through Argentina (Exploring Wine Regions (Book Series) 1)

Categories: Oldest Wine RegionsTags: , , , , By Published On: August 30, 2022Last Updated: February 21, 2024

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